11 April 2012

How HIVSA makes mobile health services work in South Africa

Submitted by Annemarie Roodbol

There are great benefits to integrating primary health care and electronic medical systems into mobile health (mHealth) services, says Rob Allen, who is the manager of the hi4life programme at HIVSA.

Says Rob Allen: "through the support of the Elton John Aids Foundation, HIVSA has developed a unique set of services through its new mHealth brand, hi4LIFE. These services, supporting the National Department of Health, allow all South African's to access relevant, up-to-date health information on various health topics including HIV, TB and maternal mother & child health."

He continues: "there are enormous opportunities available to partners in making these services more interactive and user friendly resulting in increased usage for network operators, using mHealth as a direct marketing and advertising platform and ultimately for achieving better health outcomes for everyone in South Africa."

Hi4LIFE services
To access the hi4LIFE mHealth services a publicised number is dialed which directs the caller to various information menus, through which a topic of interest can be selected. In return the caller will receive a set of SMSs on this topic. Alternatively, says Rob Allen: "you can also go to mobile optimised websites, in the case of hi4LIFE there is mama.mobi or baby.mobi, and access instant information on specific areas of concern, ask questions or comment. We also have voice lines and Mxit applications in development."

Great benefits
HIVSA's Rob Allen will share the South African non-profit organisation's experiences with the implementation of its mHealth service at the upcoming Mobile Health Africa 2012 in Johannesburg in May: "it is our vision, that through the hi4LIFE platform, anyone, including health care professionals, should be able to access relevant, up to date, accurate information on any health subject, privately, anytime, anywhere. We believe, and this is only the beginning, that there are great benefits to integrating primary health care and electronic medical systems into mHealth services."

Real or perceived costs a challenge
According to Rob Allen, most of the challenges to user uptake of mHealth services involve costs, both perceived and real, and both for the provider and the user. "In South Africa there are very few opportunities to provide "free to user" cellphone based services. The "free" services are immensely popular as one would expect but any cost to a user is a severe barrier to user uptake."

HIVSA's Rob Allen's presentation at the upcoming Mobile Health Africa 2012 will be one of dozens of case studies and success stories by organisations and companies that are leading the development of mHealth initiatives on the continent. The event which will provide the perfect platform for the establishment of the business models and partnerships needed to build sustainable and scalable mHealth services throughout Africa. Other organisations and companies who will be there include UNICEF, the Grameen Foundation, AMREF, Waha International, HIV/SA, USAID, UNFPA, Vodacom, Safaricom and HP.

Mobile Health Africa 2012 is part of the Connected Africa Forum, which will showcase the evolution of mobile lifeline services and applications in Africa, and highlight the evolving intersection between mobile money, mobile health and mobile agriculture.

Speaker highlights on the programme include:
• Sandhya Rao, Senior Advisor for Private Sector Partnerships, USAID
• Sean Blaschke, Child Survival Systems Strengthening Specialist, UNICEF
• Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Representative - Tanzania, UNFPA
• Diana Mukami, Project Manager, AMREF
• Sean Krepp, Country Director, Uganda, Grameen Foundation
• Salim Madati, New products and Innovations, Airtel Tanzania
• Betty Mwangi-Thuo, Chief Officer, New Products Division, Safaricom
• Bright Simons, CEO, mPedigree
• Maruis Conradie, E/M-Health Executive, Vodacom

Event dates and location:
14-17 May 2012
Johannesburg, South Africa